Kamasi Washington has turned his acclaimed 2018 album Heaven and Earth into As Told to G/D Thyself, a film he co-directed with a group of black indie filmmakers. The 22-minute film premiered at Sundance showing his conceptual albums can take flight on the big screen, too. While Heaven and Earth drew attention to the varied states of chaos and ecstasy that make up the black experience, his short film elaborates on that by depicting black people as spiritual beings who can transcend the pain of the physical world.
Now available on Apple Music, As Told To G/D Thyself is the first project from the newly-formed collective The Umma Chroma, which consists of Kamasi Washington, Terence Nance, Jenn Nkiru, Bradford Young, and Marc Thomas. It feels related to the conceptual journeys Washington takes listeners on in his records.
His latest film collaboration is especially interesting because it uses a series of abstract scenes to evoke a feeling or idea about blackness instead of telling a typical story. And Washington’s music does much the same thing, using instrumentals to communicate emotion. Taken together, both the visuals and music play off of one another to communicate the idea that black people contain multitudes.
Washington calls the film the fourth element of his album, and it’s easy to tell why. As Told to G/D Thyself is a natural extension of Heaven and Earth. The slowly building music sets the tone for a series of scenes that ricochet between spiritual solitude, lively playful moments, and despair. In the film, black people can also use their gifts to their advantage to change physical states, and as Washington told GQ the film is, “about discovering the abilities that you have. And how when discovering the abilities that we have, we're able to create the world we want to create.”
The concept of black people existing in multiple forms at once has also been important to Nance’s work. It’s a theme that appears often in his HBO show Random Acts of Flyness, and when I spoke with him last year, he said, “blackness is sourced in non-embodiment in a lot of ways.”
Solange also dedicated an interlude in her album When I Get Home to the idea that she has many versions of herself. Her album's accompanying film, co-directed by Nance, felt like a necessary complement because it illustrated the various expressions of her personality she was reconnecting with on her journey “home.” With As Told to G/D thyself, Washington, like other alternative filmmakers, is using film as a way to gesture toward an unspoken emotional, psychological experience of blackness that propels his music, an experience that is sometimes most powerfully conveyed with no words at all.
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